Karl Rectanus is CEO and founder of Lea(R)n, a Raleigh startup selected this fall to participate in the second-ever Kaplan EdTech Accelerator in New York City, powered by Techstars.

You will never have this opportunity again. Never. This. is. it. 

The first impression. As entrepreneurs—especially those focused on growth—we have to recognize that every new interaction, whether a pitch to investors or a chance meeting as you wait for your latte, is a moment in time you will never get back. Incredibly scary and intimidating for some. A moment of excitement and opportunity for others. In cases where you’re pitching to investors, this is your moment to engage, inspire and be remembered. For the investors, this is one of a thousand pitches (perhaps one of a thousand this quarter!). Make it count! 
At the Kaplan Techstars office, the power of the opportunity was reinforced by the countdown clock on the wall. For three months, the clock counted down every second until we pitched in front of 350+ investors at the Kaplan Techstars EdTech Accelerator Demo Day the morning of October 22nd. 
Here’s a little of what the Techstars mentors told us matters most in pitching (Too many to name, but a special thanks to Don Burton, TA McCann, Ash Kualarachchi and Kaplan’s Maia Sharpley for their consistent guidance). You can judge for yourself if we took advantage of the unique opportunity—watch our demo day pitch below. 

  • Stories matter. There is a standard arc to the investor pitch. That story arc helps you tell a story, and helps investors learn quickly from the story you wish to tell. In general, the arc should outline the problem, the solution (your product demo), the market size, the model, and the team. These ingredients are sometimes delivered in a different order, but telling your story should include all of them, concisely and in a way that builds understanding and a cadence. In our case, you will notice this arc; we went lighter than I would have liked on team, but it was a strategic decision based mostly on timing. The overall story arc is the same. 
  • Timing matters. Explain the problem and “turn the knife” on why you matter in the first 90 seconds. Five minutes is a long time in a mobile device-enabled world. Your audience could reach for their phones at any moment (or just be thinking about what texts or emails they are missing). In the first 90 seconds of your pitch, every individual is deciding if you are more interesting than their phone for the next three and a half minutes. You will notice our final pitch builds credibility quickly, and outlines the problem we’re solving in a way anyone could understand. In earlier iterations of our pitch, we had a pretty funny section that all of the mentors and classmates liked but you won’t see it in the final. Nothing wrong with humor, but the additional 15 seconds we just did not have, so we cut it. (The cut slides actually became a bit of meme in the office—I’ll share the slides on LinkedIn next week.) 
  • Practice matters. There are multiple ways to practice. Watch videos of other pitches—we actually scheduled daily “game tape” time to break down and watch other experts dissect the good and bad areas of pitches (Techstars CEO David Cohen does a great job here). Practice your pitch in front of experienced, friendly investors and ask them to advise on the pitch. Film yourself, and ask people to critique. Say it out loud in the shower. Walking down the street. Practice with a colleague on your team; the more you do this, the more you will attune and have support. Own it, experiment with it, hone it, and make it yours. We went through countless iterations, often in the same day, before locking it down. Once the lights are up and the investors are in front of you, you have to shine. 
  • Delivery Matters. When an investor only gets to taste a few crumbs, he or she assumes that’s what the whole loaf tastes like. Since every business is about execution (or should be), your pitch is a window into your passion, your expertise, your vision and ability to change life on earth as we know it. How well you execute the delivery is a window into how well you will execute on your vision. Shoulders squared, facing the audience, don’t read from the screen, be focused and deliver so the audience is hanging on your words. Give the people what they want: entertainment and enjoyment. We practiced with a key focus on the mechanics of the delivery to ensure our energy, expertise and passion were attractive to the audience… Ultimately, you can be the judge. 

So, focus on what matters, and you’ll build an asset that can benefit your company significantly. Our pitch is an asset we will continue to use, modify and update. We welcome your feedback, questions and critiques—that’s how we keep Lea(R)ning!